Involved in yet another pitcher’s duel Thursday night, the North Duplin and Princeton softball teams knew whichever team could take the lead had a good chance to hold onto it in lieu of how strong starting pitchers Rylee Pate and Hailey Wood were in the circle.
Fortunately for the Rebels (21-4) in a must-win game, they broke through first and held on for a 2-1 victory to send the Eastern Regional 1A Softball Championship best-of-three series to a decisive third game Friday night at Princeton (21-2).
Rylee Pate earned her 13th win of the season with a complete game one-hitter as her curveball was working and she had Princeton batters baffled all night long trying to pull pitches that were on the outside of the plate.
All the help Pate needed arrived in the bottom of the fourth inning when she drew a one-out walk herself and advanced to third base on Shaily McCarty’s infield single deep in the hole at short which led to a throwing error in trying to nab Pate at second base.
Two more infield singles followed including a RBI single from Alyssa Santos before Courtney Brock’s bloop single to center scored McCarty to spot Pate a 2-0 lead.
“She had a very good game,” North Duplin coach Ricky Edwards said of Pate. “We were fortunate to get some runs when we got the bases loaded there and I’m just tickled we have a chance to play again.”
Pate allowed just two base runners through the first six innings when Megan Bryant reached first base on an error in the third and Wood drew a leadoff walk in the third.
Both times, Pate shut down the rest of the Princeton lineup and came one out away from recording her sixth no-hitter of the season before the Bulldogs’ Beth Braswell launched a solo homerun in the top of the seventh inning.
With Emily Ricks coming to the plate representing the potential tying-run, Pate coaxed a soft line drive from Ricks to end the game.
Pate has pitched all 13 innings of the series for the Rebels this far and has allowed just one run on four hits in those first two games, striking out 18 batters total.
“We’ve just got to put the bat on the ball,” said Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “We’re trying to hit those outside pitches out front and we’ve got to just wait on it a little longer.
“We’re making contact, we’re just not making good hard hits.”
Pate’s counterpart Hailey Wood struck out seven and allowed five hits. Wood was in cruise control to start the game, needing just 31 pitches to retire the first 10 batters she faced before running into trouble in the fourth.
With runners on first and third and one out, Haley Brogden grounded the ball to Braswell who had no play after holding Pate on third base. Santos followed suit with a grounder to first and this time Braswell fired to home but Pate beat the throw by a step for the game’s first run, eliciting a roar from the sizable home field crowd.
“It was exciting,” Pate said of the home-field crowd. “We love the atmosphere and the students. We knew it was going to be a big game and we were excited.”
The series returns to Princeton Friday night with a berth in the state championship on the line.
The Bulldogs have won three of the five games played between the two clubs this season but North Duplin will enter a confident bunch having won on the Bulldogs’ home field 7-6 back on April 5th.
“I think we just have to go in and relax and play the game and see what happens from there,” Edwards said. “Both teams have outstanding pitching and we’re just going to go in and have fun.”